In Marketplace

Lori Mendelsohn Thomas spends some time with her own poodle.

In Marketplace

"I followed my life's passion, which has always been animals," says Thomas.

Dog sitters provide pets one-on-one attention

If you have to ask yourself if you're walking your dog enough, then you probably aren't.

But if you work a "9 to 5" job, then your pet care options are somewhat limited. You could come home during lunch and dote on your dog, or if it works for (both of) you, you could send your pooch to doggy daycare. But if your dog needs a more one-on-one approach, and you can afford it, personalized pet care might be more your speed.

Fortunately, professional pet sitting and walking exists in Milwaukee, and not just from just one vendor.

Lori Mendelsohn Thomas operates Wisconsin Pet Care, LLC. A 30-minute visit, which can consist of everything from belly rubs to fresh water to a long walk, costs $18 (the prices go down with multiple animals; two dogs, for instance, are $21).

It's just somewhat less expensive than the going rate for a day's worth of doggy daycare, though it's admittedly much more brief. And it's a heck of a lot more personalized.

Compared to doggy daycare, Thomas says her service is less about physical stimulation.

"A lot of dogs ... want to be left alone. So this is more one-on-one, more compassionate care and (about) building bonds. The dogs know around midday to get excited.

"We can do daily dog walking or vacation care, which is emotional and mental kinship," says Thomas. "We adore them, and text message every owner. We keep a written journal."

Thomas' staff isn't a group of teenagers working a minimum wage job. They are highly skilled, she says, in animal training and management, and each is studied in animal first aid, CPR, delivering medications and injections. The staff bonds with your pet, which, if you have a skittish dog or cat, can be very important.

This career is actually somewhat new for Thomas, who comes from the world of fashion. After being laid off in 2008, she decided that pets were her future.

"I followed my life's passion, which has always been animals," says Thomas. "I didn't have animals growing up, but I always adored them and had a very strong kinship with them."

In 2009, she started growing her business from one customer then to 325 now – with 11 sitters. Her business covers everywhere from the Western suburbs into northern Illinois. The East Side is Thomas' most popular area.

"Actually, we have a lot more cats than dogs," says Thomas.

It's hard to put a cat into daycare.

Along those lines, at daycare, dogs get sick are exposed to aggressive animals, says Thomas. Not a problem with Thomas' service.

"People are willing to pay for it, and then some. My goal is to get each sitter completely packed, then (hire more)."

"There are only so many positions available for midday, which is between 11 and 2," says Thomas. "Once a route gets full, we hire another sitter."

Even Thomas herself gets in on the act, as a "fill-in" sitter.

Says Thomas, "This is very much a trust-based relationship. You're giving me the keys to your home, and we have your most precious thing under our care."

Thomas does have competition in Milwaukee, but she says her business model is different. Unlike some of the other companies in the area, Wisconsin Pet Care makes sure the animals meet their sitters in advance. Her prices are in the middle of the pack, but Thomas stands by her medical training and team-oriented model.

"A monkey can walk a dog," says Thomas. "It's the details and the team," she says, that makes the difference.


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